Monday, April 02, 2018

Lebanon - Baalbek, Anjar, and Ksara

The first day of our visit to Lebanon took us west to the Roman ruins in Baalbek, the Ummayad ruins in Anjar, and to Lebanon's oldest winery in Ksara. We finished the day out on the town with friends in  Beirut.
Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek

Here's what the travel brochure told us today held in store for us: Explore the ancient ruins and winemaking heritage of Lebanon on this full-day trip from Beirut, including lunch. With an expert guide, visit the age-old ruins at Baalbek, a stunning complex of Roman temples and buildings that made up the Roman city of Heliopolis. After a tour of the 8th-century Ummayad ruins at Anjar, finish at the Ksara Caves, a series of ancient caverns used as wine cellars by Lebanon’s oldest winery, Chateau Ksara. Tour the winery and cave cellars, and sample some delicious wines before your return to Beirut.

Arrival in Beirut
Yesterday, we arrived at the Beirut airport and our cab was waiting for us. On the highway to the hotel, there was a digital billboard that said "Happy Easter" before switching to something in Arabic. We stayed at the Hotel Grand Meshmosh - friendly, but more Spartan than expected. It was more of a hostel than a hotel. In particular, the room I booked had shared bathrooms. The occupants of the two other rooms came back to suite after midnight, and the atrium light streamed thru the frosted glass door into our room where I was sleeping on a bunk bed. So, yeah, "Grand" was modifying Meshmosh (Arabic for "apricot"), and not the hotel.
Anyways, today started around 6 am. It was early morning and the birds were singing. Our 5-yr-old daughter said that she speaks bird and they were saying that they love us. The golden sunshine illuminated the tan stone buildings, some still glistening from recent cleaning. We sat down for our buffet breakfast around 7:10. There was only one other guest up. We left the hotel at 7:30, setting out at a brisk walk to the tour pick-up site at another hotel. We arrived there at 7:45, and the other guest from the hotel was already sitting in the van. The shuttle bus took us to a 40 passenger tour bus. That' basically the difference between what we got and the “private” tour. Considering where we are going, however, there's safety in numbers.
This map shows the mountain range we pass through to Baalbek
The tour bus departed their office at 8:26 am. Speaking in multiple languages, our guide recommended that we cluster in language groups (English, French, etc) so that she could better address each group vs the entire bus. On bus ride out, we saw that there were still some Easter decorations on the concrete road dividers, some sort of metal rebar crosses draped with white cloth.
We passed Hamdul city, which had been damaged by a 24-hr Israeli assault at some point in the past. While the facades have been rebuilt, it's still deserted. Thirty minutes after our tour began, we arrived in an area where there used to be lots of pine trees, but they had been cut down for heat during the civil war. A little further on, we saw the ruins of train tunnels that had been used to protect Ottoman soldiers from snow back when the Ottoman Empire was a thing.  Shortly after that, we encountered the foggy Beqaa valley.

Guess we're close enough to the border...
At 9:08, my phone announced "Welcome to Syria". From where we were, we could see a mountain with snow on its peak in the Anti-Lebanon range. Then we entered checkpoint country.
Our first stop was to see the largest man-made stone block ever discovered. It's made of limestone, measures 64 feet by 19.6 feet by 18 feet, and weighs an estimated 1,650 tons.



Baalbek
Baalbek is "the area of the god Baal".  The Baalbek temple area includes the Temples of Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. Our guide's accent as she says "Temple of Jupiter" sounds like she's saying "Temple of Jew Peter." At the Jupiter temple, we saw the results of Byzantine defacement which included cutting off statue noses, which was symbolic of cutting off breath. There was also a statue of a woman that was likely intended to be Cleopatra.

Steps up to the Temple of Jupiter

Info on the Temple of Jupiter






RRR in the Temple of Bacchus

At the Hezbollah gift store


More from the brochure: Depart Beirut by air-conditioned coach and venture through Lebanon’s countryside to Baalbek. After around two hours, arrive at this ancient archaeological site and set out on a guided tour of its age-old ruins. Known by the Romans as Heliopolis, this timeworn site is largely made up of semi-crumbled temples built during the Roman era. View the broken remains, including the massive Temple of Jupiter, built on a huge podium and around a rectangular courtyard where sacrifices were performed. As you explore, hear about the mystery of the gigantic stones that served as the foundations for earlier temples here. The size and weight of the stones have left scholars confounded as to how they were originally transported here, and then manipulated into place.

Anjar
After boarding the bus in Baalbek, we then headed onward to Anjar. It's even closer to the Syrian border, and there were plenty of Hezbollah flags flying. We stopped for lunch on the way, and our traditional Lebanese meze was nice. Our older daughter liked the taouk (chicken) and toum (a Lebanese garlic paste).
After lunch, we rode on to Anjar. Stretching our legs, we passed some of Anjar’s souks on our way to explore the town’s showpiece: the Umayyad ruins. Consisting of the remnants of an 8th-century palace-city ruled by the Ummayad dynasty, this fascinating complex is filled with ruined temples, arcades and gates, many built in Hellenistic and Roman style.





The grate covers the ancient sewer system


Ksara
The last stop on our tour today was at Chateau Ksara. We watched an informational video before walking through the cellar caves. The Ksara Caves were discovered in 1898, and now these ancient caves are used by Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest wine estate. There were easily thousands of bottles stored in the caves-turned-cellars. Not that we needed to, but once again we learned about the winemaking process (you might recall our trips to Napa, or Mendoza). Of course, the most fun was tasting some of the delicious wines made here.

Feeling good from the wine, we returned to Beirut. to meet up with some friends.

Beirut at Night
There was a considerable amount of traffic headed back home, so we were running behind. After our shuttle bus dropped us off where it picked us up this morning, we could tell we were going to be a little late in meeting up with our younger daughter's pre-K teacher, Ms. Leen. So, Greg ran ahead to meet Ms. Leen at 6:30 at our hotel, and found her on the stairs up to our hotel.

We ate dinner by Pigeon Rock. Night tour of old Beirut. Fun fact: Pigeon Rock is claimed to be the remains of a sea monster the Greek hero Perseus killed to save Andromeda.






We found ourselves surrounded by the familiar smell of shisha by the nearly deserted clock tower circle. The area had only recently been reopened and not that many business had re-established themselves. So our kids played in the streets.





We said goodbye to our friends at the top of the stairs that led back to our hotel, then descended into sleep.

The street art in Beirut adds so much character to the city, and you really have to experience it first hand.


Art in our hotel staircase
Tomorrow, we head up the western shore of Lebanon.

« Yesterday: Trip Summary - Tomorrow: Western Lebanon »

All Posts FromSpring Break 2018 -Lebanon and Israel

All Trips From Our Assignment to Nicosia, Cyprus

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